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Elizabeth Smart: 'Hope Helped Me Survive'

by on October 30, 2012 3:48 PM

In 2002, when she was 14 years old, Elizabeth Smart woke up to a nightmare – a knife was at her neck and she heard, "come with me." 

"In that moment, I felt like I didn't have a choice," Smart said on Tuesday at the Child Sexual Abuse Conference at the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel. 

"I felt like my only hope for survival and my family's survival was to go," she said. 

Smart was kidnapped and spent nine months as a prisoner of a couple outside of Salt Lake City, UT. Her captor, whom she called Emanuel, is now serving a life sentence. On the night she was kidnapped, Smart was told that would never happen. Taken from her home in the middle of the night, Smart's mind was racing, more afraid with each step that she was going to be killed or raped. She pleaded with her captor to rethink his actions. 

"I know exactly what I'm doing," he said. "The only difference is, I'm not going to get caught." 

She was taken to the mountains and placed in a tent, where her captor raped her for the first time – though it would not be the last. 

"I remember lying on the ground," she said. "I felt like I was worthless. I felt disgusting and filthy and I didn't feel like a whole person." 

For nine months, Smart was raped and threatened so she would never scream, or try to run away or go to authorities. 

Even when police finally found her, Smart hesitated telling police who she was because of the fear that had been hammered into her for so long. 

Over the past decade, Smart has been an advocate for abused and missing children and a spokeswoman for radKIDS, an organization dedicated to empowering children not to be afraid and to know how to respond when they are approached by an assailant. 

"The best punishment we can give is to be happy, to move forward with our life," she said. "No matter how much bad is out there, there's so much good." 

Smart said there's a message she wants all victims to know and has counted herself fortunate to speak with so many survivors who often feel guilty, expressing the wish that they had done something more, despite being the victim. 

"It's not your fault," she said. 

Smart was the final speaker at Penn State's first ever Child Sexual Abuse Conference, which wrapped on Tuesday with final remarks from Penn State President Rodney Erickson around 3:30 p.m. Over two days, the conference's schedule was not affected by the weather. 

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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